י׳ באדר ה׳תשע״ח (February 25, 2018)

Avoda Zara 41a-b: Broken Statues

Although we have learned that statues that are worshipped are considered avoda zara and it is forbidden to derive benefit from them, the Mishna on today’s daf teaches that if, when the statue is found, it is broken into pieces, it is permitted. The exception would be when a full limb remains intact. In a case where the form of a hand or a foot is still whole it will be forbidden, since there are those who worship them as representative of the deity.

In general, the reason that a broken statue can be used is because we are not sure whether the statue had been worshiped as avoda zara, and even if it had been treated as an idol, its present state leads us to believe that it had been destroyed by the non-Jew who had rejected it as a deity. The halakha allows a non-Jew who chooses to negate his idol the right to do so. Thus, once a statue is found broken into pieces, it is very unlikely that it is a “still worshipped” idol.

This leads the Gemara to ask a question. Why should a remaining arm or foot of a statue be forbidden? Shouldn’t we reach a conclusion similar to that of the general rule of the Mishna – the statue that this limb comes from may not have been an idol, and even if it was, clearly the statue is now broken!? Shmuel explains that the rule forbidding use of a surviving arm or leg is only applicable when the limb is standing on its base.

Rashi explains Shmuel’s case to be a situation where the arm or the foot of the statue is found resting in a place where it appears that it has been put there for worship. The Meiri suggests that this refers to a specific type of arm or foot – one that has been specially constructed as an article of worship, for example where the hand is holding an idol, and it serves as the idol’s base.

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